How Congress Learned to Stop Worrying

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...and Love the Loophole. The start of 2007 saw Congress rally support behind a series of lobbying reforms to ban lobbyist-funded meals, travel, and other tools used to curry favor with lawmakers. Exhibiting a well-honed knack for following the letter rather than the spirit of the law, lawmakers and lobbyists have found a way around the restrictions: lobbyists pour money into a legislator's political action committee (PAC), and the PAC pays out for the event or meal.

 

Lobbyists remain invaluable to Congress as a source of campaign funds, and the new PAC go-around allows lobbyists to foot the bill for lavish events, stuff the candidate's campaign coffers, and allow the well-heeled exclusive access to our legislators.

 

From the Washington Post article, just a sampling of what lobbyists are shelling out for:

 

In just the last two months, lawmakers invited lobbyists to help pay for a catalog of outings: lavish birthday parties in a lawmaker’s honor ($1,000 a lobbyist), martinis and margaritas at Washington restaurants (at least $1,000), a California wine-tasting tour (all donors welcome), hunting and fishing trips (typically $5,000), weekend golf tournaments ($2,500 and up), a Presidents’ Day weekend at Disney World ($5,000), parties in South Beach in Miami ($5,000), concerts by the Who or Bob Seger ($2,500 for two seats), and even Broadway shows like “Mary Poppins” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” (also $2,500 for two).

 

Yes, further legislation could be passed to close this loophole -- even now there's dispute as to whether it is in fact legal. The reality is that under the current campaign finance system, lawmakers depend on big bucks from lobbyists to mount competitive campaigns. Only an alternative financing system like Clean Elections -- where candidates who demonstrate public support and agree to spending limits receive full public financing for their campaigns -- will address this dependency and put an end to the kind of largesse and access-buying evidenced in this article.